Tigers draw Music City Bowl

December 16, 2014
Juniors Galore: Tarpons finding success without any seniors
December 16, 2014
December 16, 2014
Juniors Galore: Tarpons finding success without any seniors
December 16, 2014

The LSU football team didn’t get the big-time bowl game it wanted in the preseason.

But it does get to close its 2014 season against one of the most well-known programs in the country before a nationally televised audience.

The Tigers will close this year in the Music City Bowl, which will take place at 2 p.m. on Dec. 30 – the annual bowl played in Nashville at the Tennessee Titans’ home stadium.

On the opposite end of the field from the 8-4 Tigers will be Notre Dame – the storied, prestigious program that will enter the game with a 7-5 mark on the year.

The Tigers and Irish have met twice in bowls – the 2007 Sugar Bowl and 1997 Independence Bowl – with LSU scoring decisive wins in both meetings.

Will the third time be the same? Both LSU coach Les Miles and Irish coach Brian Kelly are excited to find out.

“We see this as a national matchup and very attractive television game,” Miles said. “We recognize that Notre Dame is a tremendously talented pool of players from across the country…. It is a great challenge and exciting ending for a quality season.”

“We’re certainly excited about the opportunity to play such a great program in LSU,” Kelly said. “I know our guys were really excited about the news and the matchup we’ll have in the Music City Bowl.”

LSU and Notre Dame took two entirely different paths to the bowl season.

For LSU, the back-half of the 2014 season has seen the Tigers play some of its best football. The Tigers started the year with a whimper, being crushed by Mississippi State and Auburn. But in the back-end of the year, the Tigers were much better, which enabled the team to upset Ole Miss and take No. 1 Alabama to overtime.

Offensively, LSU is heavily dependent on the run and true freshman Leonard Fournette is the lead back, rushing 176 times for 891 yards and eight touchdowns in the regular season.

The Music City Bowl will also mark the final games in the LSU careers of senior halfbacks Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard, who combined to rush for just under 1,000 yards with nine touchdowns this season.

Magee said he looks forward to the challenge of facing the Irish, adding that he wants to go out a winner.

“We get an opportunity to go out and play football again,” Magee said. “It’s what we love to do, so I think everyone is going to be pretty motivated and excited to get out there and get back to practicing and give this thing one last ride.”

Defensively, the Tigers are dominant – the No. 1 statistical unit in the SEC. Since allowing 27 points against Florida on Oct. 11, the LSU defense has arguably been the best in America, letting up just 64 points combined in the final five games of the regular season.

Miles said LSU will need to rely heavily upon that defense against a Notre Dame team that he said is capable of scoring a “ton” of points.

“They are talented, capabale and seem to score points a ton in every game,” Miles said. “I am sure I will get to know them better. You don’t have to look at the film to realize that Notre Dame is tremendously talented.”

While LSU enters the bowl season approaching its peak, the Irish will arrive in Nashville trying to save what’s been a miserable second-half to 2014.

Notre Dame started the season unblemished in their first six games, defeating Rice, Michigan, Purdue, Syracuse, Stanford and North Carolina.

That set up a showdown against Florida State – a game the Irish led late but lost 31-27 in Tallahassee.

Since that loss, Notre Dame has been in a tailspin, losing four of their past five games to close the year, including a 49-14 season-ending defeat against USC.

Offensively, the Irish are a spread attack led by senior quarterback Everett Golson, who completed 250-of-416 passes for 3,355 yards, 29 touchdowns and 14 interceptions this season.

But the Tigers may not get a crack at Golson in the bowl game.

Kelly said multiple times throughout his bowl game press conference that Notre Dame will have an open competition at quarterback throughout its bowl game preparations with sophomore Malik Zaire heavily competing for playing time.

Zaire was 9-of-20 for 170 yards in garbage time action against USC.

“We have to go into that practice with a mindset of getting Everett and Malik both an opportunity to show what they’re made of and how they’re going to compete and allow us to have the opportunity for them to both grow,” Kelly said. “But at the same time, we want to see what competition looks like from that standpoint – true competition. Obviously, this wasn’t a competitive situation during the year. Malik was the backup, but we’re now going to let them compete and we’ll see where that puts us come game time.”

Miles didn’t offer comment on the Notre Dame quarterback situation, but did stress that the Tigers will have a lot of competition throughout its own depth chart, as well.

Both coaches said that the most important thing about being in a pre-New Year’s Day bowl game are extra practices to help younger players and building momentum for the next season.

The Tigers and Irish will have a chance to do both – again – for the third time since 1997 to close the season.

Magee said he and LSU’s younger players are looking forward to the challenge, adding that any opportunity to play the Irish is something they’ll get fired up for, regardless of the name or prestige of the bowl game being played.

“I think it helps. It kind of gives them a boost and a head start to looking at where they’re going to be next year,” Magee said. “For guys like me, it’s the last game. It’s one last chance to leave your mark and find a way to be remembered.”

LSU freshman halfback Leonard Fournette looks for a crease during a game this season. The Tigers’ true freshman ball carrier will lead LSU Into the Music City Bowl against Notre Dame. Both Les Miles and Brian Kelly tout that the bowl game will be an opportunity for younger players to make their mark before the 2015 year.